How are Christians to function together? There is a great challenge that must be considered when we think about the local church. Think about all of us. We are different ages. We are from different cultures. We are different races. We come from different states and even different countries. Many countries are represented in this room. We come from different upbringings. Some come from a Christian background and some do not. Some know the Bible well, perhaps from their youth while others are just starting to use a Bible. How are Christians to come together and function together? This is part of the idea that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Paul has a bunch of Christians in Corinth who come from all of these different backgrounds, nationalities, and upbringings. Not only these, they had one more thing that added to their distinctions. Some had spiritual gifts and some did not. Those who had spiritual gifts had differing ones. Some could speak in tongues. Some had prophecy. Some had gifts of healing. Some had knowledge. There are all of these different gifts and they are to come together with their different backgrounds into this one place and represent Christ as his people. How are Christians to function together? Let’s notice what Paul says Christians are to do to be the people of God in a particular city.
Unity In The Body (12:12-13)
The first point Paul makes is that we are to be one. The thesis statement is found in verse 12. There are many parts to the human body but it is still one human body. We have all kinds of different parts on our body. But that does not change the fact that with all of those parts you still have one body. It is the same with Christ. Verse 13 is the explanation of how we are one body, as witnessed that the first word of verse 13 is the word “for.” Paul says we are united because we are all baptized in one Spirit and all drink of one Spirit. Paul says that as Christians we have experienced the same thing in the Spirit. We are baptized in the Spirit and drink of the one Spirit.
What is Paul referring to? Paul is referring to the whole conversion experience that every person experiences. Notice in our text that Paul says that, “All were baptized in one Spirit” and “all drink of the one Spirit” (12:13). It is not that only “some” are baptized in one Spirit. All are baptized in one Spirit and all drink of the one Spirit. This is what the other scriptures in the New Testament teach as well. Notice what Peter said occurs when we come to Jesus.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38–39 ESV)
Notice the two things that are received when we repent and are baptized. Peter says that our sins are forgiven and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which was promised by the prophets (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-27; Isaiah 32:14-20; 44:3-5), by John the Baptizer (cf. Matthew 3:7-12), and by Jesus (cf. Acts 1:4-5). Some have argued for “Spirit baptism” as referring to a separate experience from conversion. But Paul does not speak this way, nor does the New Testament. The emphasis Paul makes is on their Christian conversion as the common reception of the Spirit. Paul does not speak of something that is limited. Any concept of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the same and simultaneous as water baptism as seen in Acts 2.
The same drink in the Spirit also refers to this conversion experience. This imagery also comes from the teachings of Jesus.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39 ESV)
The point Paul is making is that we are one because we share a common conversion experience. We have been given true, eternal life through Jesus. We have come to Jesus who has forgiven our sins, restored us to a relationship with the Father, poured out his blessings on us, and joined us into his eternal kingdom. These aspects were the hope of the promise of the Holy Spirit that would be poured out on all flesh. Paul tells the Corinthians that you are one because you have joined together in the same conversion experience. Let us consider that the means of entering a relationship with Jesus is important. This is something that we are to have in common. There cannot be that one person is not ever baptized, one person was baptized as a child, and one was baptized with faith in Jesus. This conversion experience is a common bond that joins us together. Therefore we must experience the same activity.
Diversity In The Body (12:14-20)
Though we are joined as various parts in one body of Christ does not mean that we are not different. It does not mean that there is not diversity within the body. Paul explores this truth in verses 14-20. Verse 14 is the thesis statement here. The body consists of many parts, not one body part. Therefore, there is no one who should say that he or she does not belong to this body. We have shared the same conversion experience but we are different. Here is the great truth: different parts of the body do different things. Paul is calling for us to recognize our diversity and to be content with what we are able to do as a part in the body of Christ. But here is the danger: too often people look at what others are doing and do nothing because they cannot do that. Do not take yourself out of the body. Don’t look at what others can do and be discouraged. Look at what you can do and do it with all your might. You will do many things that I am not as good at doing. The local church is intended to have a wide diversity of people doing a variety of works for the Lord. Find your part in this work here. Find your role. We need more people doing more things. Find your work. Lift your eyes and be part of the work here. There are no barriers. Talk to us about what you see you can do and we will assist you in doing that work. There is nothing that is holding you back from doing God’s work here.
Dependency In The Body (12:21-26)
This means that we are dependent on each other. Paul states in verse 21 that no one can say that they have no need of another. There is no person here that is useless in their work before the Lord, unless they are doing no work at all. Whatever you are doing for the Lord is useful and we are to depend on each other to do those things. No one person does it all. This is such a problem in the religious landscape today. Preachers are looked at as the ones to do it all. I think preachers like this because the whole church depends on them and it gives them power and security. But it is not right and it is not what God has instructed. We depend on each other for the variety of works that must be done.
What Paul describes, therefore, is the need for the local church. We live in a time where people do not see the need for the local church. To sharpen their point, if all we do as a church is come together and sit for an hour and leave, then I completely agree that there is no need for a local church. But we are supposed to be like a human body. Each part is supposed to work together in the kingdom of God for teaching, for encouragement, for correction, and for help. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. I had a horrible headache the other day. It caused my whole body to go lie down and tend to the pain. We are to be so connected together that we will rejoice together and hurt together. When one part receives honor, the whole part receives honor and joy. There is no room for jealousy or denigration. A pitcher’s arm does not receive the honor for pitching a perfect game. The whole body, the whole person, receives the honor. In the same way, what we do as parts of this body in Christ bring honor and joy to everyone here and to Christ. When I go teach another person, it represents all of us teaching. When you go to the hospital to visit someone or give to the needy or teach or do some work for the Lord, you are doing it for the whole body. The hand does not get the glory. The work of the hand is for the benefit of the whole body. We must see our work in this light and see our relationship together in this light.
Part By Part (12:27-31)
We must look at ourselves as the body of Christ, part by part. When a part is missing, it hurts us. If a part is missing, then we are going to say something and try to do something to bring you back. Further, each part has a role and a work. Do not worry about what other parts are doing. Do your part in the body of Christ. Notice the result that is to occur in verse 25. What is to happen is “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
We must be warned against two false ways of thinking. First, to think that we do not need anyone else. This pride results in neglecting the local church. We do not participate, we do not worship together, and we do not work together. We fail to see the design that God has given for us as parts of the body. The second way we engage in false thinking is assuming we have nothing to offer. It does not matter how new you are in the faith, you have much to give to the body here. We need you. We have many people here who are newer Christians but are excelling, teaching, and working in this body. It is a wonderful thing to see and it is building up the body here. Consider that both forms of false thinking come from comparing ourselves to other Christians. Instead of comparing ourselves, let us be different parts of the body that work together for the glory of Christ. Though we come from different backgrounds and may find ourselves to be so different from others in this room, we are joined together in our conversion experience. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”